High Court orders government to install Justice Ministry chief by end of month

Judges back AG’s position that political bickering doesn’t override duty to approve a permanent director-general, an appointment that has been delayed by coalition infighting

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn seen at the Knesset, October 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn seen at the Knesset, October 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice on Thursday ordered the government to move ahead with appointing Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn’s pick for director-general of his ministry, saying that political considerations are no reason to not fill the post, which has been vacant for over a year.

A panel of three judges gave the cabinet until the end of the month to vote on the nomination of Attorney Shimon Baron as director-general of the Justice Ministry.

Nissenkorn announced his choice months ago and Baron was approved by a selections committee, but the Prime Minister’s Office has so far refused to bring the matter to a cabinet vote, with Prime Minister Benjmain Netanyahu having issued a de facto freeze on all appointments of senior officials in Blue and White-controlled ministries — especially the Justice Ministry. Unity government partners Blue and White have responded by refusing to allow votes on appointments in Likud-led ministries such as health and finance.

The panel of three judges noted that the review process for Baron was completed in August, saying “the proposal to bring and confirm his appointment with a government decision has long been ripe.”

Illustrative: The High Court of Justice in session. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The justices backed Attorney General Avichai Mandelbit’s position that coalition wrangling does not override the duty of the government and other relevant bodies to fill senior positions with permanent appointments.

Baron should be appointed “with the appropriate speed,” the judges wrote, noting it could be approved at a cabinet meeting scheduled for December 20. They set a deadline for the end of the month.

Last month, Nissenkorn boycotted a cabinet meeting in protest of a deal that was reached between his Blue and White party and Netanyahu’s Likud on two senior appointments that he was not told about.

An agreement on filling the two posts was reportedly reached by Blue and White leader’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Netanyahu in furtive talks kept secret from the party’s top lawmakers, including Nissenkorn, whose own ministry remains without a government-appointed director.

Benny Gantz, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset during a vote for the parliament to dissolve itself, on December 2, 2020. (Danny Shem Tov/ Knesset Spokesperson)

As part of their coalition agreement, Likud and Blue and White agreed to put off any senior nominations that they were likely to clash over. However, at the start of October, Gantz said it was time to end the “chaos” in the government and fill senior law enforcement posts that have long been manned by temporary stop gaps.

The country has been without a permanent state prosecutor for nearly a year and without a permanent police commissioner for nearly two.

In November, Mandelblit told the High Court of Justice he believed the state must explain why it has so far failed to appoint a permanent director-general to the Justice Ministry. He said that with no concrete justification given for the failure to move the process forward, he “believes there is no choice” but to subpoena state representatives to respond.

The unity government between Likud and Blue and White, that has limped along amid in-fighting since it was formed, has come to a head in another dispute that has prevented the passing of a state budget. As a result, the country is widely believed to be heading for its fourth election in two years.

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